It only took a few hours on social media before an avalanche of political reactions swept in. A campaign celebrating diversity and “Freedom in the hijab” launched by the Council of Europe triggered strong criticism in France on Tuesday, November 2, leading the organization, a watchman for human rights on the continent, to withdraw it the same evening.
This is precisely the message in English, accompanying the portraits of several young women veiled on only one half of the face, claiming « beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab » (“Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in the hijab”), which is at the origin of the reactions of personalities both on the far right and on the left of the French political field and of government intervention.
France had “expressed its extremely strong disapproval”
Broadcast since Thursday 28 October, the campaign launched by the Council of Europe’s program for inclusion and the fight against discrimination – program co-financed by the European Commission to the tune of 340,000 euros – had hitherto gone unnoticed.
Within the government, it was the Secretary of State in charge of youth, Sarah El Haïry, who said, after the withdrawal of the post from the campaign by the Council of Europe Tuesday evening on LCI, that France had “Expresses his extremely strong disapproval”, allowing by “His diplomatic networks” exactly “The withdrawal of this campaign from [mardi] ».
🔴🗣️ Controversial video of the European Council: “France has expressed its extremely strong disapproval, hence the ret… https://t.co/7T0LaUDgGf
On Wednesday, it is the turn of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to criticize this campaign. “These tweets have nothing to do with the application of the principle of secularism in France”, he said during the session of questions to the government in the Senate. “There is a big difference between defending freedom of conscience and religion, between leading a determined fight against discrimination and, on the other hand, doing on the part of an institution like the Council of Europe the active promotion of a particular religious or clothing symbol ”, continued Mr. Le Drian.
In the Republicans (LR) party, the campaign generated strong reactions. Valérie Pécresse, candidate for the nomination of the party for the presidential election of 2022 and president of the Ile-de-France region, made part in a tweet so “Stupor”, believing that the veil was not “Not a symbol of freedom but of submission”. One of his contestants for the nomination, the deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes Eric Ciotti, denounced a “Promotion of the Islamic veil” and an “Negation of our Judeo-Christian roots”. The leader of LR senators, Bruno Retailleau, has, meanwhile, estimated that the Council of Europe was promoting “Openly submission to Islamist mores”.
The campaign also caused a reaction on the left, the Socialist Senator Laurence Rossignol – former Minister of Women’s Rights and support for the presidential candidacy of Arnaud Montebourg – estimating in a post : “Remembering that women are free to wear the hijab (in accordance with the laws of each member state, in France that of 1905 and 2004) is one thing. To say that freedom is in the hijab ” amounts to “Promote it”. The former prime minister and former member of the Socialist Party Manuel Valls has, him, judged the campaign fight against discrimination “Shocking, bewildering and dangerous”.
On the far right, she caused an uproar. Marine Le Pen, candidate for the National Rally (RN), reacted with a tweet in the early afternoon : “This European communication in favor of the Islamist veil is scandalous and indecent. It is when women remove the veil that they become free, not the other way around! ” For the sovereignist deputy Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who also spoke on Twitter, “This is not a propaganda campaign of the Muslim Brotherhood but of the Council of Europe”. The polemicist Eric Zemmour, probable presidential candidate, has, him, denounced a “Publicity jihad” and affirmed that “Islam is the enemy of freedom”.
The tweets “do not represent the position of the Council of Europe”
“These tweets have been removed and we are going to think about a better presentation of this project”, confirmed in a press release sent to Agence France-Presse the Council of Europe, the pan-European organization based in Strasbourg. They “Were part of a joint project” of the Council and the European Union “Whose objective was to raise awareness of the need to respect diversity and inclusion and to combat all types of hate speech”, justified the Council of Europe. Tweets “Reflected the statements made individually by participants in one of the workshops of the project and do not represent the position of the Council of Europe or of its Secretary General [Marija Pejcinovic Buric] », again assured the instance.
If the Commission did contribute to the financing of the program for inclusion and the fight against discrimination, it wished to have its spokesperson specify, on Wednesday 3 November, during its daily press conference, that the Council of the Europe «Jou[ait] a leadership role ” and that she « n’[avait] not validated the elements “ controversial.
However, the Commission calls for the consideration of “Other actions” of this hate speech program. “Our position is extremely clear: women must be able to wear whatever they want, according to the laws of the country where they live”, insisted a second spokesperson for the institution.
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Council of Europe campaign celebrating “freedom in the hijab” withdrawn under pressure from France